How to Plan an Outdoor Music Festival

10 things to remember when booking acts, choosing a space, and more

Group of friends hanging out on a grassy field
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Whether its a weekend of chamber music or a rock marathon, outdoor music festivals are a great way to combine business and brand promotion with crowd-pleasing entertainment. But from hiring the staff that keeps things running to booking the bands that draw big crowds, planning one requires a lot of organization.

How to Plan an Outdoor Music Festival

Not sure where to start planning your festival? Begin with these ten things.

  1. Time. It takes many months to book the bands, the vendors, and the venue. For a large festival, it may take a year or more. Marketing and selling tickets also take time. Give yourself enough lead time to do it right.
  2. Space. Your festival doesn't just need enough open space for the stage or stages. You'll also need backstage areas, trailer parking, catering vans, portable bathroom facilities, and campgrounds if it’s a weekend festival. If you're planning to have more than one stage in use at a time, you'll also need to leave enough space between them or the acts will drown each other out.
  3. Budget. Don't lose track of your total artist budget. If you book one hugely popular act that uses up your total budget, you’re going to struggle to keep festival-goers entertained for the duration of the festival. Think about having a mix of local talent and up-and-coming bands, with as big a headliner as your budget allows.
  4. Operations. Festival-goers need food, drink, first aid kits, bins for litter and recyclables, merchandise to buy, and bathrooms. You'll need space and staff to run each of these things, volunteers to help out, and a cleaning crew to come in once the festival closes.
  5. Equipment. The focus of your event is going to be live music, which means you need a suitable stage, lighting equipment, and sound equipment. Hire a specialized music production company, as well as audio-visual technicians, to run the technical side of the event. 
  6. Permits. Without the correct paperwork, your festival risks being shut down. If the festival is being held on public land, you’re likely to need a permit from the city. You'll also need licenses if you plan to sell any alcohol.
  7. Organization. Think about how festival-goers will enter. Will you use tickets, wristbands, or hand-stamps? Wristbands are the best choice when planning an outdoor music festival, especially if it lasts for more than one day. Ensure you have enough people at the entrance to keep crowds moving smoothly, rather than leaving patrons standing in long lines.
  8. Security. Security does more than just stop people from sneaking in for free. They are also responsible for the health and safety of your festival-goers. You'll need a professional security team to coordinate with your first aid staff and monitor the festival for wandering children, slippery surfaces, unruly crowds, bee stings, and more. You should also have enough space to set up a security booth where people can go to report everything from missing personal items to assault.
  9. Entertainment. During downtime between sets, or in the case of technical difficulties, have got other types of entertainment for attendees. Depending on the theme and audience of your festival, consider adding art installations, dance shows, magicians, wandering actors, kids’ activities, or comedy acts.
  10. Marketing. Marketing an outdoor music festival requires a different marketing mix than other events. In addition to social media, local press, and digital advertising, you should coordinate with the marketing teams for the bands and acts that will perform. Their fans are going to make up a large part of your audience, so target their fan sites as well as your usual outlets.

Working as a Festival Planner

Festival planning is a highly specialized form of event planning that requires expertise in organization and people management, industry connections, and a passion for music.

To start a career as a festival planner, look for opportunities to work with the planning teams at both national and local festivals. You'll gain practical experience in the skills needed to do the work and begin building a network fo professional connections to draw on when it's time to plan your own festival for the first time.